Africa: FAO and Partners Advocate for Inclusive Food Systems to Combat Rural Poverty


New York/Rome — Director-General addresses high-level UN General assembly side event

The implications of agri-food systems transformation for the livelihoods of rural people in the COVID-19 era was the focus of a high-level event today, co-organized by FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of China and the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations (UN).

The event “Transforming agri-food systems and fostering inclusive rural development in the context of COVID-19 to end rural poverty” was held virtually, on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants highlighted the key role of agriculture in the transformation of the economy, ensuring food security and nutrition and in ending extreme poverty.

“Evidence shows that in low-income countries, investing in agriculture – especially in family farming and small-scale agriculture – has a greater impact on reducing poverty than investing in other sectors,” noted FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu who went on to stress that pro-poor growth also required creating off-farm jobs, fostering economic diversification and investing in human capital, health, education and infrastructure.

Extreme poverty in rural areas is three times higher than in urban areas. About 80 percent of the world’s extremely poor reside in rural areas and most have to cope with limited access to often degraded resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated this situation, exacerbating inequalities and negatively impacting the lives and well-being of the rural poor -in particular of women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities and youth.

The President of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, in a video message, underlined that “in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must focus on strengthening local and inclusive food systems to ensure sustained, resilient food security and poverty reduction. This includes moving from an agricultural perspective to agri-food perspective where the value addition of agriculture is appropriately recognized.”

The DESA Under-Secretary-General, Liu Zhenmin, stressed the importance of working together to address the challenges at hand. “A coordinated international response and recovery effort is very much needed to fight the pandemic, lift rural populations out of poverty, and ensure no one is left behind,” said Liu.

The President of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo, emphasized that “Today’s pandemic increases the urgency to make our food systems not only more sustainable but also more resilient, as well as inclusive and fair. I cannot insist enough on the importance of focusing our attention on the small-scale producers if we really want to boot out poverty and achieve SDG1 and SDG2 by 2030.”

The Director of WFP’s Humanitarian and Development Programme, David Kaatrud, elaborated on the agency’s resilience-building activities in rural communities. “Studies have shown that resilience programmes are a cost-efficient investment for reducing need and preventing crises. For instance, a recent WFP analysis found that each US$1 spent on an integrated package of resilience activities in Niger would generate a return of US$3.67 over a 20-year period,” he said.

As collaborators of the event, the Permanent Representative of China to the UN, Ambassador Zhang Jun, and the Head of the EU Delegation to the UN, Ambassador Olof Skoog, helped set the stage for the discussions in the opening segment of today’s event.

Ambassador Zhang stated that “accelerating rural poverty reduction and transforming food systems should be prioritized for post COVID-19 recovery and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.” Ambassador Skoog stressed the urgency to act. “In the time of COVID-19, one thing became crystal clear: addressing food security and ensuring proper nutrition for all is urgent,” he said, also underscoring the strong interlinkages between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet which are recognized in the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy.

Using and creating opportunities to end rural poverty

The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 and multilateral efforts to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic offer unique opportunities to identify and promote actions in favour of the rural poor. FAO’s Hand-in-Hand initiative is a complimentary, multi-sectoral and partnership-focused approach. It aims to reduce poverty by improving agricultural potential through investing in innovative, inclusive and productive value chains and building human capital.